This lesson plan is part of the series "Incredible Bridges: Poets Creating Community," a project developed by the Academy of American Poets in partnership with EDSITEment, the educational website of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), during the NEH’s 50th anniversary year-long celebration.
Funded by the NEH, “Incredible Bridges” responds to the NEH's initiative The Common Good: The Humanities in the Public Square, which seeks to demonstrate and enhance the role of the humanities in public life.
It is very common in the United States when meeting a new person to ask them “Where are you from originally?” In her poem “Peaches,” Adrienne Su, a Chinese American who grew up in the state of Georgia, sheds light on the complexity of answering that question when you are both “stranger and native.” This poem reflects upon the complex identities many Americans grapple with—a critical factor to consider as our nation continues to evolve into a twenty-first-century American community characterized by wide diversity.
The following sequence of activities is designed to help students think about the connections between food and identity that Adrienne Su evokes in her poem. The activities also seek to level the playing field among diverse learners, by including multiple ways to enter, experience, and explore the meaning of the poem. Feel free to adjust the activities to meet the particular learning styles and needs of your students.
A Note about Vocabulary
Ask your students to keep a running list on the front board of the words they read and hear, but do not understand. You can either conduct a separate vocabulary lesson about these words during which students try to figure out their meaning from context and connections, or review the vocabulary as you progress through the other activities.
Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
English Language Arts
Activity 1: Whip Around Warm-Up
Objective: Students will begin to think about the symbolic nature of food in different cultures.
Ask your students to think of a food that is representative of their culture in some way. Quickly go around the room and ask each student to call out their food and where they or their ancestors are from. If a particular student needs more time, they can pass, and you can come back to them after every other student has had a turn.
Activity 2: Small-Group Work
Objective: Students will make a connection between a food and how it is stored, prepared, or eaten in their family.
Activity 3: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will discuss the significance of food and how it is obtained, prepared and eaten in their homes.
Conduct a whole-class discussion around the question: What is the significance of how food is obtained, prepared, and eaten in different cultures? Make sure your students use details from their small group discussions to support their answers.
Activity 1: Reading the Poem
Objective: Students will identify words, images, and phrases that jump out at them in the poem, as well as the placement of the words on the page
Activity 2: Listening to Adrienne Su Read “Peaches”
Objective: Students will notice the difference between reading a poem on a page and experiencing a poet reading her poem.
Activity 1: Generating Questions
Objective: Students will generate questions about the poem “Peaches” after listening to and reading the poem.
Activity 2: Whole-Class Discussion
Objective: Students will brainstorm answers to questions about the poem “Peaches.”
Additional Questions for Discussion:
(If your students have not raised the following questions on their own, you can add these to further their discussion and their exploration of the poem’s meaning.)
At this time, you can also introduce the idea of a “turn” in poetry, also referred to as a volta (a sudden change in thought, direction, or emotion near the conclusion of a poem). Have students consider how Adrienne Su uses a “turn” in this poem.
Ask your students to write a poem that starts talking about a significant food in their family using a number of four-line stanzas that include slant rhyme. Their poem should:
With your students, develop an evaluation tool for their work using the terms exemplary, proficient, developing, and basic. What, do they (and you) think are the basic characteristics of an exemplary poem (or essay) that starts discussing a food and connects to other important aspects of a family’s life? A proficient one? One that is developing or basic? Remind them to include items such as vivid details, slant rhyme, four line stanzas, and turns.
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this lesson plan do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.